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Photos by Chris Blumenshine

Women's gymnastics: TWU claims second consecutive USAG national championship

The TWU gymnastics program hit a low point two years ago when the Pioneers failed to qualify for the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships team finals for the first time in school history.

Two years later, TWU has climbed all the way back to re-establish itself as one of the premier programs in NCAA Division II.

The Pioneers, led by seniors Mallory Moredock and Schyler Jones, captured their second consecutive USAG national title and the 11th championship in school history by scoring a USAG nationals-record 196.525 Saturday night at Kitty Magee Arena.

"I know for a lot of us, we used [2016] to push us," Moredock said. "We used it on the days when we weren't feeling it, and we knew we never wanted to feel that feeling ever again. I definitely think that played a big part in what we've done these past two years."

After scoring 195.700 in Friday's semifinals to lead Lindenwood, Air Force and Cornell into Saturday, TWU coach Lisa Bowerman said the team still had room to improve for the finals.

The Pioneers exceeded Bowerman's expectations and broke the school record of 196.125 set in last year's semifinals, becoming the first TWU team to win back-to-back titles since the program won four straight from 1993-96.

"I'm just so proud of the girls because having that expectation and having that pressure makes it tough," Bowerman said. "There's a reason back-to-back championships don't happen too often. They handled everything so well, were so confident and did everything they needed to do."

TWU opened the meet on balance beam and came out with an aura of confidence that set the tone for the record-breaking performance. Hunter Vincent (9.800) and Alyssa Kelly (9.875) tied their career-high scores to lead the Pioneers to a 49.050.

The strong start carried into floor exercise, as Bria Northrop tallied a season-best 9.850 while Moredock scored a 9.900. Jones tied a career high with 9.925 and had fans from all four programs applauding her performance.

"I felt good about where we were at when they attacked beam so confidently," Bowerman said. "Beam can sometimes be the event that will make or break you. If we showed nerves up there, we wouldn't have started where we needed to."

After struggling on vault and uneven bars Friday, the Pioneers used the fast start to bounce back in both rotations Saturday. Hope Parkin (9.775) set a  career high on vault, while Megan Gentry (9.850) and Moredock (9.875) tied their career-best scores.

Jones had a team-high 9.900 to help TWU set a program record on vault with a 49.200.

The Pioneers clinched the victory with a 49.025 on bars, as Hunter Vincent (9.825) tied a career high and Northrop (9.900) set a new career high in the final routine of the night.

Northrop, who tore her ACL on the final day of last year's USAG meet, spent the majority of the year working her way back into competition before playing a key role in Saturday's victory.

"It's indescribable," Northrop said. "I never had a doubt and knew I wanted to be back. I was going to do anything possible to get here, and it's been amazing. It's indescribable."

The victory was a fitting end to the collegiate careers of Moredock and Jones, who went out on top after being a part of the team's struggles as sophomores in 2016. Both athletes competed in the NCAA regionals last week, and Jones was named the Division II gymnast of the year.

Bowerman was emotional when describing the impact Moredock, Jones and the rest of the team's seniors — Kelly, Brandi Lazarus, Abigail Versemann and Taylor Vincent — have had on the program.

"This class is very special," Bowerman said. "They brought so much to our program. They were here in the toughest time, and now they're ending on this high. They deserve it because they stuck with the program, they stuck with me and they believed we would get them here.

"The trust they put in us and the way they led their team — they're just a phenomenal group."